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  From "Great Hymns of the Faith"

Each of the 10 hymns in the "Great Hymns of the Faith" course has the following parts:

  • The Hymn (composer and lyricist, lyrics, PDF version of 4-part harmony)
  • The Story (learn the background of the hymn)
  • Sing it (four original videos of my son and I singing the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts)
  • A Music Lesson (learn about time signatures, Charles Ives' quotation, shape note singing, and more!)
  • Copywork and Coloring (Use the lyrics for copywork and let the little ones color with an original coloring page by my artist daughter)
  • A Devotional relating to the hymn from a great Christian homeschool blogger.

Today, I'm sharing two of the above for the hymn "Amazing Grace."

The Story

"Amazing Grace" (1779) is one of the most popular and endearing songs of all time. It was written by John Newton, and the text of the song gives a somewhat autobiographical description of Newton's life and how he came to faith.

John Newton was born in London in 1725. His father was a sea captain who brought John to sea after his mother died when John was eleven. John's mother had taught him prayers and the Scriptures, but John rebelled and became a wicked slave ship captain.

When his crew mutinied, he was left on a island of Sierra Leone, West Africa where John himself was enslaved by Africans and forced to work on a lime and lemon plantation.

He was eventually rescued, but on the way back to England a violent storm struck. It was this event that finally brought John to faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though he had only a few years of formal school, John had taught himself Latin and geometry, and after returning to England dedicated himself to the study of theology (religion). He entered the ministry with help from John and Charles Wesley brothers (founders of the Methodist church), and began writing hymns for his church.

"Amazing Grace" was sung with a different tune at first and wasn't very popular. After the song reached America, it was matched with an anonymous folk melody, which is the way it is still sung today.

John died in 1807, and here is the epitaph he wrote for himself: "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy."

Verse 5 of "Amazing Grace" was written by John P. Rees (1828-1900).

If you'd like to watch the story in video form, see this:

(Watch first before showing to your children to determine whether it's appropriate for them.)

The Music Lesson ~ Pentatonic Scale

The melody of "Amazing Grace" uses only five notes, known as the pentatonic scale. It can be played by using only the black keys of a piano keyboard. F#, G#, A#, C#, and D#.

If you use the white keys with no accidentals, it would be C, D, E, G, and A. With solfege, the pentatonic scale is Do, Re, Mi, So, La.

Let's play "Amazing Grace" on your piano, using just the black keys, starting with C#. If you don't have a piano or keyboard at home, you can download an app such as "Grand Piano" by Sonotap or use a free online version such as the one at Virtual Piano.

Did you know that there are numerous folk songs that use this same pentatonic scale? A folk song is one where we don't know who wrote the melody or lyrics. The music of "Amazing Grace" is a folk melody. We do know who wrote the words (John Newton), but the the music it was connected with.

Here are a few more songs you can play with just various combinations of those 5 notes.

And, watch this fun video to see a demonstration of the pentatonic scale:

Another assignment: Make up your own melody using just the black keys of the piano. You can even add some words to it!